The 25 Best Young Adult Book Film Adaptations, Part Two
In the first installment of my list, I dealt with some of the more hidden gems in the young adult film adaptation world. In this one, I get around to some of the heavier hitters in the category, including some of the biggest box office blockbusters of all time. As before, these are my personal favorites, rather than a list of the “Best.” Be sure to check out the previous installment, if you haven’t already, here.
As much as I love the likes of “Harry Potter,” this was actually the fantasy book of choice I grew up on, along with the works of famed author Madeleine L’Engle, who, alas, has never really gotten a film adaptation that does her work justice. C.S. Lewis is a master of the young adult format, and the best thing about his work is how to the point and succinct it is, especially in comparison to other writers in the fantasy field. His books tend to be quick, effective reads that go by in a flash, making the “Chronicles of Narnia” books a far less daunting prospect than J.K. Rowling’s much more exhaustive and thorough works. Lewis is to Rowling what Dean Koontz is to Stephen King, and I do mean that as a compliment, and not a slight. There’s nothing wrong with creating a much more elaborate universe, but Lewis does so in a way that’s more Hemingway than say, George R.R. Martin.
Yes, Lewis does inject a fair amount of Christian allegory into his works, which may be a turn-off for some, but you could say the same about a lot of things, including the most recent season of “American Horror Story,” “Coven,” and that didn’t make it any less entertaining. The same goes for this adaptation of Lewis’ most famous work, “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.” Yes, the Christian elements are present, but you can simply ignore them if you so desire and still enjoy this just fine. My point is, they aren’t too intrusive in the general proceedings, and that’s a good thing, because Lewis’ work is to be cherished no matter what you believe in personally.
Since this adaptation, there have been two more films released: “Prince Caspian” and “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” each being less successful than its predecessor, but overall worth a look if you’re a fan. Reportedly, the next film will be “The Silver Chair,” which is in development as of 2013. While it seems unlikely that all seven books will ultimately be adapted, if “The Silver Chair” does moderately well, one could conceivably proceed into “The Last Battle” and skip “The Magician’s Nephew” and “The Horse and His Boy,” which actually back-track chronologically in the series.
Granted, the former would be nice to see, as it is a prequel to this installment, but I’d be willing to lose those two if there was some semblance of completion to the movie series, which doing “Chair” and “Battle” would certainly provide. Besides, if either did better than the last two entries, it’s not out of the question that at least the prequel could come to fruition. As it stands, though, “TL, TW&TW” is a solid, well-cast take on the book that should appeal to fans of the book and the fantasy genre alike.
One doesn’t typically associate filmmaker Martin Scorsese with family-friendly films, but that’s what makes this such a charming entry in the canon of young adult lit adaptations. This take on Brian Selznick’s “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” is a wonderful and stylish adaptation that makes full use of the 3D medium in a way that makes seeing it in that format a must, especially for fans of the book. In fact, among all the 3D films I’ve seen, this would have to rank in the top five of the best use I’ve seen to date, right up there with “Avatar” and some of the superhero flicks like “The Avengers.”
For those more accustomed to Scorsese’s more adult works, this may be a bit of a letdown, admittedly, but it’s not really intended for the same audience as, say, “Goodfellas” or “The Departed,” obviously. To me, that what makes it special. Though best known, and deservedly so, for his edgier works, Scorsese has done some interesting non-crime drama related work, and this to me is my favorite of those works to date. For one thing, the cast is superlative, including one of the best actresses of her generation, Chloë Grace Moretz (the “Kick-Ass” series), and up-and-comer Asa Butterfield, who also starred in another movie on my list, “Ender’s Game.” Also cropping up are Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jude Law and Christopher Lee.
However, the real star here is the visuals. Never before has Scorsese so fully indulged himself in the world of fantasy to such a degree, and the best thing about it is the way he ties his much-lauded love of film itself into the narrative, celebrating its history in a unique and somewhat unexpected way. I was completely charmed by this film, and though it may start out a bit slow-paced for some, stick with it, because the pay-off is well worth it. In some ways, it reminds me of the work of Jean-Pierre Jeunet, of “Amélie” fame, and makes you wish that director would tackle a 3D film. Until then, this is as close as anyone has come to doing just that.
Filmed back-to-back with “The Outsiders,” another adaptation of author S.E. Hinton’s work, this film by Francis Ford Coppola polarized critics upon its release and tanked big time at the box office, serving as a bit of a come-down after the success of that film, but it’s well worth a second look. For one thing, it’s amongst Coppola’s most experimental works, shot in Film Noir-style black & white, with splashes of color in key moments, which preconfigured films like “Sin City,” which combined old-school techniques with a much more modern spin. It’s sort of like Coppola’s take on a French New Wave film (think Goddard), with some German Expressionism (think Lang) thrown in for good measure, stylistically. As such, it and “The Outsiders” are night and day, and this is definitely the former- as in the film is dark, thematically and literally.
Granted, this won’t be for everyone, and even if you love Hinton’s work, Coppola’s approach here may be a turn-off. But it’s a beautifully done film that awards thoughtful viewing and patience. And that cast! Along with “Outsiders” alums Matt Dillon and Diane Lane, the cast includes a young Mickey Rourke, Dennis Hopper, Christopher Penn, Nicholas Cage, and Laurence Fishburne, plus singer Tom Waits. Though “Outsiders” is more faithful to the source material and more of a crowd-pleaser, this stylish mood piece is perfect for those who prefer their art a bit more contemplative and dreamy. As an added bonus, the score by former “Police” man Stewart Copeland is fantastic and well worth owning in its own right. A truly underrated gem.
I really loved this adaptation of the first three books in “author” Lemony Snicket’s (aka Daniel Handler) “A Series of Unfortunate Events” book series, and it did moderately well at the box office, but as of yet, there haven’t been any more in the film adaptation department, which is too bad. While the film perhaps bites off a little more than it can chew in adapting three books, it still holds together fairly well, and the cast is game and excellent, including one of Jim Carrey’s best turns as the dastardly Count Olaf. Also cropping up are Meryl Streep, Jennifer Coolidge (“2 Broke Girls”), Cedric the Entertainer, Billy Connolly (“The Boondock Saints”), Catherine O’Hara (“Beetlejuice”), and Emily Browning (“Sucker Punch”).
It’s basically the best Tim Burton movie not actually directed by Tim Burton, which will either be a plus or a minus depending on how you feel about Burton’s work. (For the record, that would be a good Burton film like “Edward Scissorhands,” not, say, “Planet of the Apes.”) It’s about a group of kids who are orphaned in a mysterious fire and are forced to live with the nefarious Olaf, who terrorizes them at every turn. It’s darkly funny, in a way that would do the likes of Roald Dahl proud.
Though Handler himself did many drafts of a script, ultimately Robert Gordon did the honors, though Handler approved of the end results. Worth seeking out is Handler’s in-character commentary of the film on DVD as Lemony Snicket, which features songs and music by Handler on accordion and some hilariously bent comments that fans will definitely appreciate, including a deriding of the film’s Snicket (as played by Jude Law) as an “imposter” and claims that director Brad Silberling is holding him hostage and forcing him to do the commentary against his will!
This is sort of like the “Empire Strikes Back” of the “Hunger Games” series, in that it’s darker, ends on a cliffhanger, and as such, has no real “ending” at all. But it’s definitely an overall marked improvement over the first installment, which was solid but flawed, particularly in terms of pacing. In contrast, even clocking in at nearly two-and-a-half hours, this one zips along like a charm, with some wonderful character moments for fans and superb casting, including the essential additions of the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch, the new Gamekeeper, and Jena Malone as fan favorite Johanna. And who doesn’t love Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss?
Given that the last installment, “Mockingjay,” is being split into two films, and fans had mixed feelings about the last novel, this one is likely to be the best in the series even after the other two are released, unless some extensive retooling is done. My hope is that the loose plot ends that author Collins didn’t address in that book will be addressed in the film version, and the end result will be the rare film that surpasses the book, but we’ll see. Until then, this is the one to see if you want to know what all the fuss is about “The Hunger Games.”
This film pretty much blew my young little mind when I saw on home video back in the day. Until that point, I was used to animation being more light-hearted, save the occasional Disney parental trauma (i.e. Bambi’s mom, Simba’s dad). However, “Watership Down” was different, in every conceivable way, from a Disney flick. For one thing, it was British, so it inherently had a different flavor than I was used to, and the grittier animation style also took some getting used to. But moreover, it was darker, and much more sinister than any previous animated feature I’d seen to date. Nowadays, you can see that in, say, any given anime, but you never forget your first bit of more adult-oriented animation, and this was mine.
This one revolves around a group of rabbits, who rush to find a new home after one of them, a “seer,” predicts doom if they stay where they currently are in a particularly chill-inducing fashion. Along the way, they run into various terrors, including a vicious dog, a sneaky cat, gun-wielding humans, and, most horrifying of all, the nefarious General Woundwort, the stuff of every bunny’s nightmares- and my own, at the time. Though kids who like this will love it, there’s no denying this is more for adults than the kiddies, unless you want to do a lot of emotional coddling afterwards in the resulting trauma that incurs as a direct result of seeing it.
The books are equally great, and the film is not without humor, with an especially welcome turn by Zero Mostel as the endearing Kehaar, a seagull that helps our main bunnies chart the landscape for suitable places to live and helps them avoid potential foes- some of the time, at least. Just try and stop yourself from imitating him later on: “I go to BEEG water! Keee-haaa!” Be forewarned: some bunnies do not fare well. If you like this, be sure and try and track down author Richard Adams’ other books, most of which also deal with animals personified as humans as well. There’s also an adaption of “The Plague Dogs” that’s worth seeing if you can find it.
This was one of those young adult books I cherished but was sort of wary of them adapting into a movie. It’s sort of like when your favorite indie band becomes famous. You’re like, hey! That was my band, in a possessive, ridiculous way. Well, this was my book, and I couldn’t imagine a film version doing it justice. After all, it is an epistolary novel, which is a fancy way of saying it was written in the form of journal entries, like a diary. Then it was announced that the author would be writing and directing the adaptation himself, and I wondered if it wasn’t at least possible it could be decent. But would this be more like a Stephen King scenario (remember “Maximum Overdrive”?) or would it be one in which no one else could have done the source material justice like the author himself?
Thankfully, Stephen Chbosky nails it completely. It’s all here: the mopey music of the Smiths, the awesome song (aka “The Tunnel Song”) no one knows the singer of until the end, the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” bit, the supportive teacher (Paul Rudd!), the everyday struggles of living in the wake of the death of loved ones, plenty of teen angst to go around, and, of course, that quietly devastating ending. The cast is just perfect, from lead Logan Lerman (who cropped up on my previous list as the titular character in the “Percy Jackson” films) to a girl any teenage boy would crush on, expertly played by “Harry Potter”-vet Emma Watson. There’s also Nina Dobrev (“The Vampire Diaries”), Kate Walsh (“Private Practice”), Joan Cusack (“Shameless”), Dylan McDermott (“American Horror Story”), Melanie Lynsky (“Heavenly Creatures”), and Tom freaking Savini, aka one of the best special effects guys ever, and co-star of “From Dusk Till Dawn”. And don’t even get me started on that soundtrack, which is pure perfection. All of this adds up to one of the best YA adaptations of all time, in my book.
Okay, I admit it, I love me some S.E. Hinton. Honestly, was there a woman that so thoroughly nailed the male teenage experience half as well? Or a man, for that matter? What’s more she wrote this one as a teenager herself. It doesn’t get much more authentic than that. Made the same year as director Francis Ford Coppola’s other entry on this list, the also Hinton-penned “Rumble Fish,” this film and that one couldn’t be more different. This one is as accessible as “Fish” is avant garde and off-putting to some.
And that cast! This is one of those films people bring up when they talk about dream casts, like “Animal House” or “Dazed and Confused.” Check out this line-up, many of them then stars-to-be: “ET”-vet C. Thomas Howell, “Karate Kid” Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Rob Lowe, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, Diane Lane, and singer Tom Waits. Um, wow. You really can’t go wrong there.
The original version does a commendable job of capturing the spirit of the novel, but die-hard fans should seek out Coppola’s superlative re-edit, “The Complete Novel” edition, which is readily available on DVD, along with commentaries by much of the cast, deleted scenes, and the requisite making-of bonus features. He also replaced the original score with popular music of the time, so it really does feel like a new movie, even if you’ve seen the original a billion times.
Hinton was the subject of more adaptations where this came from, a few of which I was also tempted to include, particularly “Tex” and “That Was Then, This is Now,” which also feature Matt Dillon and Emilio Estevez, respectively. The only one of her YA novels that hasn’t been adapted is “Taming the Star Runner” and I say bring that on! (“Hawkes Harbour,” her only adult novel, is well worth a read, too- or an adaptation.) This is the classic, though, undeniably. Stay gold, Ponyboy!
I mentioned Disney films earlier as occasionally having some pretty heavy subject matter, insofar as kids go, but this was the one that really blew my mind in that regard. It’s based on the classic horror/fantasy novel by the much-lauded Ray Bradbury, the man behind such perennial reading list faves as “Fahrenheit 451” and “The Illustrated Man,” which have also been adapted into films. But this one has always been my favorite. It really sticks with you, and even better, it plays just as well to adults as kids, which means you can appreciate it on many levels, and learn something new every time you see it, regardless of age.
The primary focus is making the best of life while you can, and the dangers of yearning for something you can never have again. If you’ve seen or read Stephen King’s “Needful Things,” this is basically in the same wheelhouse. The cast is uniformly excellent, including Jason Robards as the older patriarch of a family that includes young Will (Vidal Peterson); Diane Ladd as the mother of his best friend, the excellently-named Jim Nightshade (Shawn Carson); Pam Grier as a silent-but-deadly witch; and best of all, the sinister Mr. Dark, unforgettably portrayed by an arguably never-better Jonathan Pryce. This is chilling, nightmare-inducing stuff, and not your typical Disney film by any stretch of the word.
I’m actually a big fan of Disney’s “dark period,” which also included their freakiest animated feature “The Black Cauldron,” which Tim Burton cut his teeth on; “The Watcher in the Woods,” with Bette Davis and Bond Girl Lynn-Holly Johnson; the underrated-if-campy sci-fi/action flicks, “The Black Hole” and “Tron”; and the freaky belated “Wizard of Oz” spin-off, “Return to Oz.” But this one is easily the best of the bunch, and filled with nightmare fuel that still has the power to chill you to your very marrow. You go, Disney!
Though I debated whether or not to include more than one of this series on the list, I do feel that, more than any other entry in the series, this one comes closest to properly approximating the true spirit of the books on the whole. It helps that the director is visionary Alfonso Cuarón, of “Gravity” and “Children of Men” fame, as well as another adaption of a YA favorite, “The Little Princess.” Cuarón just gets the source material, and it’s enough to make you wish he did the whole series. Of the rest, I suppose the last two, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One and Two” come the closest to recapturing Cuarón’s particular brand of fantasy and horror, but really, it’s no contest: this is just the best of the bunch, plain and simple. I love the mind-bending ending, and this was the first in the series where it felt like everything just clicked across the board for me. Feel free to disagree, but this is the one that just does it for me everytime.
Honestly, I’m not sure I want to know anyone who doesn’t love this film. It’s a one-of-a-kind mix of fantasy, romance, comedy and everything else one could ask for. The best way to describe it to newbies is a more American-friendly version of a Monty Python flick, I suppose. The cast is just to-die-for, and includes- deep breath!- Fred Savage (“The Wonder Years”), Peter Falk (“Colombo”), Robin Wright (“House of Cards”), Cary Elwes (“Saw”), Mandy Patinkin (“Homeland”), Chris Sarandon (“Fright Night”), Christopher Guest (“This is Spinal Tap”), Wallace Shawn (“Clueless”), Billy Crystal (the Oscars), and mother-freaking André the Giant, massive wrestler extraordinaire. How do you not want to see that line-up in a movie?
It’s eminently quotable: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” And “INCONCEIVABLE!” And plenty more where that came from. It wasn’t a huge hit at the time, but it’s gone on to become one of the best loved cult films of all time, cropping up on Best-of lists from AFI, Bravo, Time, and Channel Four’s “50 Greatest Comedy Films” List. The book is also fantastic, if a bit more sardonic, with hilarious ongoing commentary from the author, who presents the novel as an abridgment of a book by an author that doesn’t in fact exist. Yep, Goldman was “meta” before there even was a “meta.” You gotta love it.
Yes, author Roald Dahl hated it, and Tim Burton remade it in a more faithful version in 2005, but come on, this movie rocks. I get why they hate this version, but it doesn’t make it any less awesome in my book. Besides, movies are movies and books are books, and if the books are generally better, that doesn’t necessarily mean the movies don’t deserve their own assessment, and my assessment of this movie is that it’s the best. I mean, come on. Who doesn’t love Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka, by turns funny and horrifying, prickly and endearingly absurd? And talk about nightmare fuel: do kid’s movies get more frightening than that infamous bad-acid-trip of a sequence on the boat? Hell, even Marilyn Manson embraced that one as scary, and look at him. (Or better yet, don’t.)
I don’t even like musicals much, but I love this one. The songs are super-memorable, and the kids for once come off as real kids, in all their sometimes horrific splendor. Who could forget the spoiled Veruca Salt? Or the gluttonous Augustus Gloop? Or the “You’re turning Violet” Violet Beauregard? Or, be still my heart, the Ooompa-Loompas? I love the book as much as the next fan, but I honestly wouldn’t change a thing about this film, period. And it never gets old, no matter how many times you see it. What’s not to love? It’s the best, and my all-time favorite YA adaption ever, accept no substitutes.
Well, that about does it for my extended look at my favorite Young Adult adaptations. Be sure to list your own faves below, and check out my other articles if you like this one!